It was a beautiful day in early February. The sun shone outside onto Abigail’s desk, illuminating the blank sheet of paper in front of her. Twirling the pen gently in her hands, she stared outside at the rolling fields and orchards of her farm. She remembered the many months that she and her five children had tended it alone…her fine, porcelain-white arms turning brown in the sun, her back growing strong. She remembered her mother, teaching her to be a lady and a fine keeper of her future home. Could she have ever foreseen this life for her daughter? The wife of a circuit lawyer, an ambitious, opinionated, outspoken young Harvard graduate. Then he was a delegate to the first Continental Congress, battling for the freedom of the colonies from the grip of England.

All those years, for days and weeks and months at a time, Abigail had been alone. Alone to raise and educate little Nabby, Johnny, Susanna, Charles and Thomas. She had been thankful then, for her father’s library. She remembered sprawling across the floor with a pile of books at her side…English and French literature, books of history, poetry, philosophy, essays. Yes, her youthful hunger to learn had served her well in the education of her five young children.

Most of all, Abigail had been grateful for her study of the Bible. The daughter of a Congregationalist minister, she had been raised in the church. But as she grew older, her faith truly became her own; her understanding that the Father alone was the Supreme God, that Jesus Christ derived His Being and all his powers and honors from the Father, that the three were one, the one three.1 That true religion came from the heart and was between a man and his Creator; not the imposition of man or creeds or texts.2 Her trust in the Lord of Heaven and earth was the rock upon which she depended during those long days and nights without her beloved John.

She wrote to him nearly every day during those lonely months, closing her letters with reminders of her love and her constant prayers for him. “Good night. With thoughts of thee I close my eyes. Angels guard and protect thee.”

The children had missed him too. How well Abigail could remember little Nabby lulling her brother to sleep with the song, “Come, papa, come home to brother Johnny.”3 Her sweet voice had brought tears to her mother’s eyes, echoing as her words did, the cry of Abigail’s own heart.

But she had worked hard to be strong. She believed in her husband’s work, and wanted him to know that she loved him and supported him every step of the journey. How worried he was for them, listening to the bickering members of Congress in Philadelphia, sleeping alone in a boardinghouse, longing for his wife and little ones. No, she would not add to his fears. Despite all the deprivations and terrors of living through a war along, she would be brave.

Abigail remembered her husband urging her to fly to the woods in case of real danger. She wrote back quickly. “Courage I know we have in abundance, conduct I hope we shall not want, but gunpowder –where shall we get a sufficient supply?”

Then, early on the morning of June 17, 1775, Abigail awoke to the sound of rumbling cannon fire. She thought of the children…her own brood and also the five young ones of Dr. Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, whom she was caring for at the time. Quickly, she dressed by the light of a single candle.

Little Johnny awoke to the sound also. They held hands and went quickly to the top of a nearby hill. They could see the smoke above Breed’s Hill, they could hear the sounds of battle.

Dr. Joseph Warren died that day, along with 440 other killed, captured and wounded brave American soldiers and 1,073 of the British soldiers. The fight became known as the Battle of Bunker Hill. At the time, the war seemed as though it would never end.

But at last, it had. The American colonies had won their independence, and John Adams was an important political figure in the new nation. He served as the Vice President of George Washington from 1789 until 1797. And always, Abigail was his closest friend and confidant, and most trusted advisor. Her political views on the abolition of slavery, the rights of women, and the necessity for education of both boys and girls, influenced John and therefore the nation as a whole. She believed in equality and freedom, and in helping those less fortunate then herself.

Abigail refused to have black slaves, but rather hired free Africans to help with her household. Indeed, she stated in a March 1776 letter that she doubted her fellow Virginians true “passion for Liberty” seeing as they “deprive their fellow Creatures” of freedom. In 1791, she enrolled a young African man in a local school when he expressed a desire to write. When her neighbor protested, she said that he was “a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? … I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write.”

She also believed in female equality and rights. “Remember the ladies,” she urged John in a March 1776 letter, “and be more generous and favourable to them then your ancestors.”

And now it was 1797, and John was to be the 2nd President of this young country. Abigail sat at her desk, still smiling into the sunlight over the many memories. How proud she was of her dear John! How hard he had worked and how tirelessly he had fought. And now, finally, here he was, about to be inaugurated to the highest office of the land he had helped to conceive.  She smiled, and at last, she wrote.

Abigail could not know that in 1825 her son John Quincy Adams also would become the 6th President of the United States of America. But it was her own strength and patriotism, her own love and kindness and intelligence, that taught her young son.

” ‘ The sun is dressed in brightest beams, To give thy honors to the day.’

 And may it prove an auspicious prelude to each ensuing season. You have this day to declare yourself head of a nation. ” And now, O Lord, my God, thou hast made thy servant ruler over the people. Give unto him an understanding heart, that he may know how to go out and come in before this great people ; that he may discern between good and bad. For who is able to judge this thy so great a people ? ‘were the words of a royal sovereign ; and not less applicable to him who is invested with the chief masistracy of a nation, though he wear not a crown, nor the robes of royalty…

 My thoughts and my meditations are with you, though personally absent ; and my petitions to Heaven are, that ” the things which make for peace may not be hidden from your eyes.” … That you may be enabled to discharge them with honor to yourself, with justice and impartiality to your country, and with satisfaction to this great people, shall be the daily prayer of your

A. A.”

Abigail could not know that in 1825 her son John Quincy Adams also would become the 6th President of the United States of America. But it was her own strength and patriotism, her own love and kindness and intelligence, that taught her young son.

For it was women like Abigail Adams who helped to shape the young United States of America into a land of freedom and equality for all.

 

  1. From a letter to John Quincy Adams, May 5, 1816
  2. From a letter to Louisa Adams, January 3, 1818
  3. From a letter to John Adams, September 14, 1767
  • “The Children’s Book of America” by William J. Bennet, “The Bravery of Abigail Adams, p. 28-33, Simon & Schuster, © 1998 
  • “Abigail Adams” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abigail_Adams
  • “Abigail Adams letters for the years 1761 thru 1816” http://www.familytales.org/results.php?tla=aba
  • “Abigail Adams” http://www.abigailadams.org/
  • “Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 March 1776, ‘Remember the Ladies’” http://www.masshist.org/adams/apmanuscripts/apselected_1_text.html
  • “My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams”, Harvard University Press http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/ADAMYD.html
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